It’s a miracle Machete Kills even exists. It’s a sequel to a film originally based on a joke trailer before Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse. With that in mind, it was easy to forgive potential flaws in the first Machete since most of the troubling scenes were cut and pasted from that original trailer. So how do you approach Machete Kills now that it has greater aspirations, crazier ideas, and more room to spectacularly fail?
Machete Kills quite literally attempts to reach for the stars. Does it carve out a new name for itself or does its Machete need sharpening?
Machete Kills is the story of Machete (Danny Trejo), an ex-federale who gets roped into a mission into Mexico by United States President Rathcock (Charlie Sheen Carlos Estevez ), as he tries to get over the loss of a loved one by killing lots of bad guys. As Mendez (Demian Bichir) and Voz (Mel Gibson) threaten both the United States and Mexico with a fleet of nuclear warheads, Machete has to put aside himself and fight for justice.
As you can most likely tell from the summary (and by the first few minutes of the film itself), this film is not meant to be taken seriously. But at the same time, a lot of effort put into the film can be mistakenly brushed off to the side as “exploitative schlock.” It’s important to decide on the kind of film Machete Kills wants to be. Is Machete Kills an intentional Grade B Movie or an unintentional one? The difference between the two is that when a film is intentionally trying to be as goofy and Grade B as possible, there is a greater potential to fall flat on its face as neither its humor or seriousness hits the mark. Thankfully, that isn’t a problem here. Machete Kills joyously shreds through convention and becomes a wonderful parody of exploitation and send-up to fans of Robert Rodriguez’s line of films.
Robert Rodriguez has mastered the art of goofy grit. Through his years of experience in the “Mexploitation” genre, he’s found the perfect balance of violence and hilarity. Think using an intestine to rappel through a hospital window was the best kill you’d see in the Machete series? Machete Kills upps that ante tenfold. There’re helicopters, boat motors, space rifles, and even triple bladed, electrified machetes. If none of that sounds interesting to you in any way, you’re not going to like this movie.
In fact, that’s Machete Kills‘s main problem. It carves such a niche for itself, it’s nearly impossible to reach in from the outside (especially if you’re a woman). At times Machete Kills has so much going on, its convoluted story struggles to make sense. Sure you can write off its story problems or bad dialogue as part of its intentional Grade B charm, but unfortunately so much of the film is spent setting up a sequel that may never happen or ogling women’s breasts (In retrospect, Machete Kills will be far better as a Grade B film if Machete Kills Again…in Space never comes to be), it tends to forget to explain what’s going on at any moment.
While the story can get confusing and goes on about 20 minutes too long, thankfully everyone involved with the film knows exactly what kind of film they’re in. Amber Heard (as Miss San Antonio) and Demian Bichir (as Mendez) deliciously chew through the scenery and own their personas. Bichir’s Mendez wields multiple personalities and is the main reason the rough second act (where Machete has to take Mendez to America for reasons I won’t spoil here) is bearable. Heard’s Miss San Antonio is deadly sexy and has some of the best lines (and Planet Terror paralleled sequences) in the entire film. Sofia Vergara gets some points as well as she uses her horribly sexist caricature to its full potential, elevating her terrible, terrible lines. Honestly, her character wouldn’t have worked (“man-eating dominatrix”) if it were anyone else.
As for Danny Trejo? Unfortunately, he still can’t anchor a movie. He’s certainly gotten better in the past few years thanks to starring in whatever Grade B or C film that offered him money, but there’s only so much a stone faced man could do when confronted by folks who can actually act. It’s a big strike against the exploitation genre when you’re boring big hero is upstaged by the villains.
Speaking of villains, Mel Gibson is such an excellent exploitative villain (and a cut above Steven Seagal’s goofiness from Machete) I’m sad he hasn’t been used this way before. He just gels into the role and becomes such a wonderfully despicable, yet humorous person who loves Star Wars. Every other cast member in the film brings their B-game to the script and Kills‘s use of stunt casting will certainly get both laughs and eyebrow raises (there’s one cast member who wasn’t spoiled through the advertising that’s just wonderful in her bit part). Don’t like how Sofia Vergara or Lady Gaga acts? Don’t like Alexa Vega’s gratuitous outfit? Don’t worry, they’ll be gone after a few minutes. It’s a brilliant use of their famous names.
All in all, Machete Kills certainly kills it. Sure it’s not all gummi bears and rainbows (rougher than rough plot, overbearing sexualization of women and cleavage despite its attempts at strong female characters, intentionally bad dialogue falls flat a lot of the time), but Machete Kills somehow holds it together and manages to accomplish quite a bit for what it is. A sequel to a movie branched off of a joke trailer.
If you enjoyed the first Machete, if you’ve ever enjoyed anything made by Robert Rodriguez (and love the idea of a Sex Machine shout out), and if you understand what kind of film it is trying to be, you’re going to have so much fun with Machete Kills. For everyone else, maybe a rental.